Wonder 52

5201

What a great start to the day, I thought during lunch as I savored a chocolate pastry. Sometimes, the microwave does a lousy job of heating the pastry, leaving a frozen core in the center, but this time, that center core was melted and delicious.

I’d met the greatest kid that morning, a boy named Tanner.

“Are you the doctor?” he asked.

“I’m a nurse!” I said. “What’s up? Let’s see if we can make you feel better.”

5202

He laughed as he hopped onto the examining table.

“What’s so funny?” I asked.

“I was really scared coming here,” he replied. “The other kids teased me about getting shots, and they say that you come out feeling worse, and they say that all the growned ups here are meanies. But you’re not mean.”

5203

“Of course not!” I said. “Most of us are pretty nice. Sometimes, one of the doctors here likes to yell, but he usually just yells at me, not at the patients. You know how that goes.”

“Back at the home, the big kids yell sometimes,” he said.

“What home is that?”

“The home for kids like me. The ones without homes.”

I glanced at Tanner’s file. He lived at Willow Creek Center for Children and Youth.

5204

He had a slight fever–just a cold. So, I administered a child’s dose of the remedy and sat with him while the herbs and mushroom compounds took effect.

We talked about video games.

“You like blick-block?” he asked. “I know a trick with it!”

He showed me a pattern that worked on level four, and if you completed it correctly, you earned unlimited extra lives.

“Well, that’s cool!” I said.

“Isn’t it awesome?”

5205

Soon enough, he was feeling well. “Mrs. Adams said that if I felt good to go to school, and then just ride the bus home, and if I didn’t feel good to ask the reception lady to call, but I feel good.”

“Have a great day at school, Tanner.”

“I will, Nurse Charlie,” he said. “See ya!”

5206

That was the morning. It was after lunch that everything shifted. I’ve noticed that sometimes: a day that starts out great can end up awful, or a day that starts awful can end up great.

This day took a turn downhill.

I heard a commotion as I was heading back to the examining rooms, only to find Bria collapsed on the floor in the lobby.

5207

We loaded her onto a gurney and wheeled her into the operating room.

We ran a few tests. It turns out it was hypoglycemia. She’s been coming into the clinic often, with a wide range of symptoms. I guess it must have been blood sugar issues all along.

We gave her intravenous fluids, and I stayed with her until she felt better.

5208

Normally, after a day like that, where I was able to help two people feel better, I’d be heading home with a gratified smile.

But this wasn’t a normal day. This was one of those days where everything that happens earlier gets cordoned off, not as if it happened in an earlier part of the day, but as if it happened in a different layer of the universe.

I got a phone call from Pai who never calls me at work.

“I am calling, Carlos, with news. Yes. This is news that is… this is news. I am here with sua mãe. It is no good, Carlinhos,” Pai said.

5209

Eventually, he was able to tell me what had happened. It was Tia Berry. She came in from working in the yard, complaining of feeling tired.

5210

She lay down for a nap, and when she didn’t come out for tea a few hours later, Mãe went in to discover that she had stopped breathing.

“She left while she slept,” Pai said. “There was no pain. At least that is a blessing.”

5211

I said I’d be right over. Pai told me to wait, come over the next day. He was going to spend the night, and Mãe had finally gone to sleep. He wanted her to rest up while she could.

“It’s been a shock,” Pai said. “She needs her rest. And I will stay for now.”

On the ferry ride back home, I kept replaying the last visit I had with minha tia, when she and Mãe had come over here, and they had told me about Jake. She hadn’t seemed right then. Her usual sparkle was dulled. I should have insisted then that she drop by the clinic. I figured that she was affected by Jake’s passing. But the signs were there, if only I’d been able to see.

5212

I remembered Mãe‘s words to me, when I ran into her down by the Rattlesnake.

“I want to get to have a chance to meet my grandkid before it’s too late,” she’d said.

It was already too late for Tia Berry.

I logged onto the adoption services website. I’d filled out my screening form and application already, and I’d had a few phone interviews with the social worker.

There was a message in my account.

5213

Dear Mr. Rocca-Cups,

We have an immediate placement which seems to be a good match for you and your situation. Please call as soon as possible.

I called right then. They had a child, a boy, who they felt would do well with me. And if I could make it there before nine, I could pick him up tonight.

Of course I was rushing things. Tia Berry has just left, and this grief hasn’t even settled in yet. But my heart was open, and if there were a child waiting for a home, and I had a home to give that boy, and if bringing him home now meant that minha mãe might get to know her grandson before it were too late for her, then it wasn’t too soon. It wasn’t rushing. It was responding with an open heart when the universe provided a miracle on a night when it felt like there was no such thing as the miraculous.

5214

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Wonder 36

Charlie

3602

I got a call from the gallery. They’d received requests for my artwork.

“We want to buy up all the canvases that the members of your club create, too,” said the gallery owner.

“You want Paint’s’ work?” I asked.

“Absolutely!”

It turns out that a critic wrote a review of my work, “Wonder Child, Wonder Artist.” Somehow, the name recognition of Rocca, thanks to the fame of Pai and meu avô, generated excitement about my artwork, and through me and Tia Berry, the work of our club.

At the same time, I was ready for a day off from the health clinic. Even though I’d just started, I felt like I needed to sort things out. How did I feel about Western medicine, actually? Was working in the medical field really what I wanted? Maybe Tia Berry was right. And Mãe was definitely right that I’d been rushing things.

I called up Eva at the clinic and explained that I needed a few personal days to get situated.

I was hoping, too, to maybe get some furniture, especially if I could sell some paintings.

I called up the club members. “Come hang out at my place on the island!” I said. “Bring your yoga mats! Bring easels!”

3601

It felt great to see my old friends at the cottage.

I cornered Tia Berry the first chance I got.

“You know that herbal remedy you make?” I asked her. “What do you put in it?”

3607

“What’s with the sudden interest?” she replied.

I explained about how when Mãe had come to the clinic sick, I hadn’t been able to figure out what medicine could cure her, but we both knew that Berry’s herbal remedy would bring healing fast.

“I’m into healing,” I said. “I don’t want to fight or battle disease through synthetic chemicals. I want to heal through natural means.”

“You know,” Tia Berry said, “you’ve started the path of becoming a traditional doctor. You should follow through with it before veering off to other approaches.”

She headed downstairs, and I was left thinking over her words.

3603

We painted all morning. I called the gallery owner back and let him know that it looked like we’d have about six or seven works to deliver that afternoon.

3604

“Great!” he said. “I’ve got buyers already lined up!”

I found Tia Berry again.

“Ok,” I said. “I think I know what you mean. Learn the standard practices first, and then start introducing the alternative methods, right?”

3605

“That’s what I’m thinking,” Tia Berry said. “How do you know what works best if you don’t know what all the options are? Learn your field, first, and then you can start introducing or developing other approaches.”

After everyone left, I ran the canvases over to the island gallery, used my share of the profits to pick up a few cheap items of furniture from the second-hand store, and paid a fisherman to haul the  pieces in his truck back to the cottage.

In the soft evening light, I set up another canvas. I was painting this one to hang in the health clinic. As I painted I focused all my feelings into the canvas–I want to be able to look at this painting and remember the resolve I felt that evening.

3608

It’s a long path I’m on. I’m just at the beginning stages of learning how to be a doctor. I’ve got so much to learn. And then, once I learn that, I want to learn more, finding ways to integrate other more natural and holistic approaches to healing.

I think my life would have been more simple if I’d become a professional musician, or if I’d let my painting career be my main focus.

But I’m not sure I’ve ever wanted to settle for simple. I’ve cared more about doing what helps most. I just hope I’ve got what it takes to succeed in a field that I might not have much aptitude for. Desire, I was learning, doesn’t make talent.

3606

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Wonder 31

Charlie

3104

I told Tia Berry my decision to become a doctor after I graduate.  She laughed in my face.

“You’re joking, right?” she said.

“No, I’m serious.”

“Oh, Chazzie. But the medical establishment? It’ll eat your soul!”

She went on to outlay for me the ways that traditional medicine focuses on pathology, viewing everyone as a potential client and conspiring with the pharmaceuticals to keep people stuck in sickness so that they’re dependent on prescriptions.

“It’s not what you think, Chazzie,” she continued. “It’s not about making people well.”

I thought about what she said. I’ve done some research, plus I know my tia, so her perspective wasn’t a surprise. I’m not deflated, though.

Did I describe my favorite painting that I’ve done? It’s really, really dark–a mass of blue so dark it looks almost black, like a moonless sky. And there emerging from the center is the figure of a horse, looking royal and fearless, barely visible as it moves out of that darkest midnight blue.

This is how I visualize my future. I know there will be obstacles. I know that my chosen career will have challenges, and that I’ll encounter bad motives and corruption, and all sorts of blocks to what I hope to accomplish. But suppose I don’t try. Suppose I give in and keep that horse always in the shadows, not even fully formed or developed. What happens then? Nothing changes.

I want to look right into everything that’s wrong. That’s the only way to bring change. That’s the only way that the horse moves out of the night.

3102

My friend the gardener was more encouraging.

“Beryl tells me you want to be a doctor,” he said.

“I sure do!”

“My aunt’s a naturopath,” he said. “I think you’d like her approach. If you want, I could set up meeting with her.”

“That’d be great!” I replied. I’ve already decided that I want to focus on holistic medicine.

3103

I had no idea that his aunt was a naturopath! I’ve noticed this thing that happens sometimes with life: a question might arise, and an answer will follow. A challenge appears, and a way through it emerges.

It’ll be fun to invite Tia Berry to my office, once I get my practice established. I’ll blow her mind! “This is medicine?” she’ll say.

I’ll just smile and reply, “Minha tia, this is healing.”

3101

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Wonder 26

Charlie

2601

Minha mãe is a hero. I always knew it. Today, due to my idiocy, I put that knowledge to the test. It started with the best intentions: my club buddies were over, we were hungry after yoga practice, and I volunteered to scramble up some eggs for us.

Tia Berry said that morning that she heard snapping sounds coming from the stove when she was heating water for tea. We thought it was the kettle expanding.

But as I was cooking, there was a loud pop under the front burner, and then the stove burst into flame.

I grabbed the fire extinguisher before my mind even registered what was happening, and then next thing I knew, there was Mãe at my side, fighting the fire with me.

2602

Mãe!” I yelled. “Go outside! Take Berry with you! Get safe!”

“We got this, Charlie,” she said.

Yuki ran in screaming. “I smelled smoke!”

“Get outside, Yuki!” I shouted. “Take my tia with you!”

2603

Time did that weird thing where it stops and silence wraps itself around everything. I loved it. I hated the fire, and I felt like such an idiot for having started it, but I loved that silent envelope. I felt like I was moving through clarity–not a thought, just total awareness, like I could step through the frozen moment.

2604

“You’re awesome, Mãe,” I said when the fire was finally out.

“We did it, spud,” she said. “Not bad.”

2605

She got that wistful look she gets when she watches me.

“I ever tell you about the first fire I fought?”

She hadn’t.

“It was my second trimester,” she said. “I was hungry all the time. And sick all the time, but you don’t want to hear about that.”

She told me about how the stove had burst into flames when she was scrambling up some eggs for breakfast. She’d put out the fire then, too.

“I liked it,” she said, “if you want to know the truth. I liked the power of quenching the flames. I liked knowing I could keep you safe.”

“That’s how I feel now,” I said. “I’d do anything, Mãe.”

“Me, too,” she said.

2606

The kitchen was a mess–flakes of ash everywhere, the stove emitting the stench of burnt plastic and electrical wires.

I cleaned it up. If I really would do anything, then that means doing the gross work, too. Heck, minha mãe had just put out a kitchen fire. She shouldn’t have to clean up the kitchen, too.

2607

I realized I was starving once the biggest part of the mess was cleaned up. We had to wait for the new stove to be delivered, and, besides, I really didn’t feel like cooking with heat. I made a salad.

2608

Later, after Hugo and Yuki left, when Mãe and Tia Berry were sleeping, I did some reps out back. It’s a weird feeling I had. Can a person feel both tender and strong?

I felt vulnerable because I realized how quickly anything could go wrong. I felt like a baby because minha mãe had rushed to save me. I realized she’d always do that–as long as she lived. No matter how big, how strong I am, I’ll always be o bebê da minha mãe.

At the same time, I felt powerful. I’d protected her. I’d protected our house. I’d found this strength and courage inside of me. I’d stepped into that mighty tunnel of silence, and I’d found something in me I never knew I had.

I don’t know how this works: How does it work that I can be both a baby and a man at the same time?

2609

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Wonder 25

Mae

2501

Lately, I’ve been watching Charlie as if I’m seeing him for the first time. I wonder if my dad felt like this sometimes. I remember once, I was about Charlie’s age, and I was writing in my journal. I remember that I felt excited–I’d just discovered something. I forget what it was, but I was writing quickly, and when I looked up, I caught my dad looking at me.

“What are you doing?” I asked my dad.

“I’m seeing you,” he said. I blushed.

“I’m nothing to look at,” I answered.

“No,” said my dad. “You’re beautiful.”

I remember how bashful I felt. But as I’m looking at Charlie now, seeing how beautiful, how amazing he is, I imagine that my face looks like my dad’s did then: lost in the wonder of this person that somehow came here through me.

Charlie and Berry as so similar. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. I mean, Berry and I raised him. And Berry and I, we talk a lot. I mean, we’re always talking, always sharing our ideas and our opinions. I guess we’re opinionated. So it makes sense that Charlie would pick up our views and mindset. But it’s not just ideas that he shares with his aunt: he even has her gestures and mannerisms.

2502

I always thought that Charlie would grow up macho and tough. I’m not sure how I got that idea. He was a bold kid, and his dad, while not coarse, by any means, is certainly very masculine. So I always imagined that Charlie would grow up to be just like him. But Charlie has such a sensitive side. He’s creative and intellectual, and he speaks articulately and eloquently, and he seems to be always thinking, always feeling.

2503

He’s started a club. It’s called “Paint,” but it’s really a club for sensitive, creative types like him. It was his idea that they practice yoga.

“I’ve been reading about meditation,” he said. “Musicians are using it to help with performance anxiety. I think I need to add it to my toolkit.”

2505

“It’s good for artists, too,” said Yuki. “Integration of mind and body!”

I watched Yuki talking with him. Charlie doesn’t seem to notice yet, but he draws women to him. I’m grateful he’s sensitive: at least if he breaks hearts, it won’t be intentional.

2504

During the first club meeting, Berry and Hugo got mired in a debate about pointillism. I had to shake my head. Leave it to my sister to refute the optics theory behind it.

“It’s all dots anyway,” she said, “whether we paint them as such or not. We just can’t perceive them in any other way!”

Hugo seemed deflated.

2506

Charlie joined them.

“It’s having a renaissance, did you say?” he asked Hugo.

“Yeah, sure,” said Hugo. “And I’m the biggest champion.”

“But why not Impressionism?” said Beryl.

“It’s not either-or, is it?” Charlie said. “Don’t we learn more when it’s both-and? And even if now, we can see what about pointillism doesn’t work, doesn’t that make it even more interesting, for we learn about how our minds put together what we see, like when we listen to music, if we know something about auditory theory, we can understand how our minds put together what we hear into a cohesive piece? Isn’t that what matters?”

Beryl and Hugo both looked at him, feeling their argument had been diffused.

Charlie smiled and continued talking with more and more enthusiasm about how we create meaning out of what we see and hear.

I thought of my dad, again, as I always seem to do whenever I reflect on having once been a daughter, and now being a mother. I remembered how my dad picked up my journal one day and held it before me. “It’s just little lines on paper,” he said, “until the human mind decodes these scratches and forms them into meaning.”

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Wonder 24

Beryl

2401

What a help Charlie is around the house! No surprise–he’s always been considerate and helpful, even when he was a little kid, and now that he’s a teen, he’s capable of actually helping, rather than getting in the way with a smile.

The day after Mae’s birthday, I insisted that Charlie take a break from chores.

“I know you really want to work on that song you’re composing,” I told him. “Do it! Leave the dishes to me.”

2402

My secret is that doing the dishes is one of my greatest joys. It grounds me. I walked through the yard, gathering the plates, cups, and forks resting on every flat surface, and I felt the earth beneath my feet, the bay-cooled air on my arms, the scent of poppies and wildflowers, the weight of the stack of dishes in my hand: I felt myself settle into me. It’s my selfish pleasure, not a chore.

Charlie joined me for lunch.

“What’s on the agenda for this afternoon, spud?” I asked him.

“I finished that piece, the quadrille,” he said. “Maybe I’ll write another.”

2407

“Do you want to?”

“Not particularly. I don’t feel that special inspiration yet.”

“Maybe you could help me,” I suggested. “I want to improve my bowing.”

“Seriously?”

2403

We talked about violin technique. Charlie said that his teacher stressed bow angles, but that he always felt that breathing was more important.

“It’s fundamental,” he said. “Think about it: you’re part of the instrument. Its sound waves travel through you, through those spaces in your bones, even. So if you’re tense and not breathing, then the sound will be tense, too. You gotta learn to relax. That’s a thousand times more important than the angle at which you’re holding the bow.”

“Everything’s like that, don’t you think, Chazzie?”

He thought for a moment.

2408

“I guess so,” he said at last. “I was thinking about futebol. First I was thinking that I needed to be tense to play, but my coach is always shouting at us to relaxe. And think about how Pai plays, total relaxation.”

“I’m always relaxed when I’m painting,” I said.

2404

Chazzie insisted on doing the dishes, and while he cleaned up, I lay back on the bed, looking up at the ceiling and tracing the pattern of the elephant I always find in the plaster. The elephant looks relaxed–his trunk is drooping, ears sagging.

When I relax, I feel calm in my stomach, so then when I get a creative urge, and I feel it traveling up through the soles of my feet, there’s no obstacle in the way. It just flows right through to my arms, through my paintbrush and onto the canvas.

Now to learn to do that while playing the violin.

“Relax, breathe!” Chazzie said.

2405

It’s hard to do when the music sounds so bad!

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Wonder 22

Beryl

2202

At what point along our way do we say, “This is the life we have chosen.” How much of our life have we chosen? Mae and I chose to move to Windenburg, all those years ago. It was my dream, really, and Mae chose to come along.

Mae chose to keep Charlie–and not to marry Paolo–and we both chose to raise Charlie together.

My career as a painter has developed as I’d dreamed–in fact, it’s surpassed my dreams. And now, I’m adding music to my life as another way to feel the joy of expression.

Mae’s writing career has developed more slowly. I don’t think she ever sat down and said, “I want to be a writer,” the way I said, at a very young age, from that point where heart meets will, “I want to paint! I am an artist!” Instead, Mae has had stories to tell, and she has told them.

I never see Mae worry about life and how it has unfolded. She just gets up each morning and lives, doing what needs to be done, finding time for what brings her joy.

Her engagement for creating change wraps itself around Charlie and providing for him contexts for thriving. A lot of her efforts have gone towards challenging the school district.

Right now, she’s upset because his A from primary school didn’t carry over to secondary. He’s starting at a B.

2201

I heard her cursing under her breath the other day while checking Charlie’s grades through the Parent Portal.

“How can this be?” she said. “He’s already mastered these subjects ages ago!”

It’s not the grades we care so much about–it’s the free time they buy. Both of us want Charlie to be able to choose if he goes to school or not. If he’s in the midst learning to paint (which he is, right now), we want him to have the freedom to paint all night and into the next morning, rather than having to go to bed at a certain time in order to get up for school.

Once he earns that A, the Program allows him to use vacation, sick , and special excuse days to miss class if he’s working on other learning projects.

2204

When he was a little kid, he loved school because it meant kickball. I half expected he’d grow up wanting to be an athlete, like his dad.

But lately, he’s showing a sensitive, introspective side to him.

2206

He’s not expressing this through his art yet–he’s still experimenting with the medium and composition. But I’m excited to see what he creates as his mastery develops.

2205

He’s become somewhat of a philosopher lately, and he’s been talking a lot with me about religious and spiritual ideas.

“I feel reverence is the greatest of all emotions,” he said to me.

“Reverence?” I asked. “Maybe I’d use the word awe. Or wonder. Or gratitude. But  different flavors of the same thing, right?”

“Right,” he replied. “And humility. Humility is important.”

He had me on that one. I don’t think I would ever have stuck humility on my top ten list of personal attributes.

“Where did you get humility?” I asked.

“From you and Mae,” he said. “I mean, think about it. You’re one of the best artists in all of Windenburg. Maybe even one of the best living artists. And do you ever even talk about what you’ve accomplished? You talk about art, but you don’t brag.”

“Oh,” I deflected, “That’s just part of mastering something. You’ll see. As you work through the discipline of gaining skill, then as you work to let what wants to be expressed be expressed through you, you’ll see that you disappear. I bet you already notice that in your music. I’m sure you do. I can see it. So, it’s not so much humility, as it is surrendering yourself to what is greater than you–the art.”

“That’s humility,” he said, and he turned back to his journal.

2207

How much of life do we create, and how much does life create us? It’s all surrender: learning anything, moving through a day, raising a child, letting life move through you, responding to the universe as this tiny planet travels along its spiral path. It’s all surrender, and that’s where we find ourselves.

2203

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